Sunday, 31 May 2015

In Memory of a Good Soldier

Inside of In Memoriam card for the Unknown Warrior interred in 
Westminster Abbey 1920 [X498/191]

Monday 31st May 1915: Nurse Gertie Grimmer is still collecting entries in her Confessions Book. Alongside the question and answer “confessions” it now includes many autographs in the form of sketches, jokes, notes and poems. A particularly poignant poem titled “In Memory of a Good Soldier of Christ” has been added by Private A. Walker of the 7th East Surreys, written in loving memory of No.14194 Private George Brewer of the Bedford Regiment who was killed last week.[1]

A crescent moon enough to shed
Upon the field where lies our dead
A shimmering ghostly light to show
Where Britons heroes meet their foe.
What need to tell of clash and din
Of the deadly bayonet driven in
The shrieks and cries of those in pain
Of men becoming beasts again.
To see men fight and writhing die
And describe like Zola, I’ll not try
But when all’s over I could say
The best of mankind died today.
Ye British wives and Daughters too
Hold high your heads it was for you
Those heroes made their last advance
To find a grave “Somewhere in France”.

Source: Confessions Album of Gertie Grimmer [X391/498]

[1] Private George Brewer, son of James Brewer of Church Hanborough, Woodstock, Oxfordshire was killed on 25th May 1915 when the 1st Battalion were in support near Hill 60. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.  

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Effects of Gas

Gassed, by John Singer Sargent, 1918 (Wikimedia)

Sunday 30th May 1915: Mr Brown of Silsoe, who is serving in France as an ambulance driver, has written home describing events which took place last weekend:
“The Germans had been using that dreadful gas again;[1] we have to go right up to the firing line. It was something dreadful, we were under shell and rifle fire all the time. It was night time when we were there, and it was just like as if the whole sky was on fire, the noise was terrible. We could not hear one another speak, and had to drive without lights not daring to strike a match or smoke, if we did, as sure as I am writing we should have been killed … Just as we got our last load of wounded and were starting off, someone struck a match, and the Germans immediately put six shells at us in succession, but fortunately they all went to the right of us so we escaped. Our poor soldiers, when we got them to the nearest hospital, which was about three miles away, we had to lay them out on the grass, which is the best treatment for gas cases, but, poor fellows, they are doubled up in a heap, and their moaning is something awful … I had only eight hours sleep out of those three days, we were all completely knocked up; my mate fainted away and was quite done up. The doctor says his nerves are affected by the continual noise of the guns … I have just got a slice of good luck, there are about ten of us picked out to clear the wounded from the three big clearing hospitals, and I am one of them; we are about five miles from the nearest firing line – I am pleased, no mistake.”
Source: Monthly Magazine for the parishes of Barton-le-Cley, Clophill, Flitton and Greenfield, Gravenhurst, Silsoe, Westoning, July 1915 [P21/30/17]

[1] Chlorine gas was first used at the 2nd Battle of Ypres against the French on 22nd April 1915. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Appeal for Sandbags

High Street, Leighton Buzzard, 1913 (Jackson and Co. on the left) [X291/376]

Tuesday 25th May 1915: Mrs. Ella M. Fenwick of Tilsworth has appealed for people in the Leighton Buzzard area to help in providing sandbags for the Front. The appeal originated with Miss M. L. Tyler of Linden House, Highgate Road, London at the encouragement of her soldier brother. Although Miss Tyler is already receiving thousands every day, the “supply required is endless”. Mrs. Fenwick has published instructions for making the bags, which must be made from hessian and of a uniform size of 33 inches by 14 inches. She has pattern sandbags which she can lend to anyone who wishes to make them and will send the finished items on to Miss Tyler. Hessian is available for 4¾d to 5¾d per yard and Mrs. Fenwick would also be happy to receive donations to purchase this material for others to make up. The Leighton Buzzard Observer has arranged for a sample sandbag to be on view at H. Jackson and Co., Leighton Buzzard.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 25th May 1915.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Recruiting Sergeant Needs His Eyes Tested

Leighton Buzzard Town Hall, c.1895 [Z1306/72]

Friday 28th May 1915: The recruiting march of the 2/5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment visited Leighton Buzzard this week. The marchers arrived on Wednesday, were billeted in the town that night and left yesterday morning. Their attempts to recruit in Leighton had some light-hearted moments. One recruiting sergeant picked out a likely looking man and asked him to enlist. The man professed himself willing and they set off together to the Town Hall. Unfortunately the sergeant had failed to notice that his recruit had only one arm! Fortunately he saw the funny side and suggested the man take him to the doctor to have his eyesight tested. As he said, “if I can’t see how many limbs a man has got I’m no good for recruiting.”

The recruiters were bemused when Mr Joseph Elliott of Grove Road appeared at the Corn Exchange asking to enlist. He was most disappointed to be turned down, despite having reached the age of 74! Mr. Elliott is convinced that he could be useful in the war. He told the Luton News that “everybody who is fit and willing should be accepted, irrespective of age. Although I am over 70, I would go if they would take me, as I am absolutely fit, and I think I could learn to drive a motor in a very short time”. Unfortunately for Mr. Elliott, the maximum age at which anyone can be accepted even for non-combatant service is 63. The would-be recruit spent twenty years in South Africa, where he took part in the Boer War about which he says “we had £1 a day for that, and good food and two drinks”. He also spent three years driving express goods trains between London and Crewe.

Source: Luton News, 27th May 1915 and 3rd June 1915

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Rifleman Bertie Whittemore

Rifleman Bertie Whittemore

Thursday 27th May 1915: The funeral of Rifleman Bertie Whittemore, aged 25, is to be held at Luton this afternoon. Rifleman Whittemore was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Whittemore of King’s Road. A former pupil at Surrey Street School. he was a member of the Wesleyan Central Mission Brotherhood.  Before joining the Rifle Brigade he worked for a some time for Mr. John Bull in Hitchin Road. He served with the Brigade in India and Egypt for eight years and returned to England with his regiment at the beginning of the war before being sent out to the front. Over 9th and 10th May almost the entire  battalion with which he served was mown down as the regiment suffered terrible casualties at Aubers. Private Whittemore received terrible wounds from shrapnel. He would have been killed outright but a tin of cigarettes, which was itself smashed by shrapnel,  protected his heart. He was taken to hospital at Sandgate, Kent, and died last Saturday. His father and brother were able to visit him in hospital; Rifleman Whittemore was unable to do more than whisper, but said he hoped to be home in two months. 

The Mayor has arranged for the funeral to take place with full military honours and Private Whittemore’s body will be conveyed from the King’s Road to the Church Cemetery on a gun carriage supplied by the 4th Staffordshire Battery, 2/3rd Brigade, North Midland Royal Field Artillery. The funeral procession will be accompanied by the band of the 2/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters and the firing party will be supplied by the 2/7th Notts and Derby Regiment. Bertie Whittemore leaves four other brothers who are also in the armed forces. Private Horace Whittemore has been at the Front with the 1st Bedfords and is now home recovering from wounds. Private Ernest Whittemore and Private Lee Whittemore are both serving with the 1/5th Bedfords. The youngest brother, Seaman Victor Whittemore, aged 21, is in the Navy. He was in action off Heligoland and is now back in barracks after leaving HMS Queen Mary.

Source: Luton News 27th May 1915, 3rd June 1915

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Straw Hats or Khaki Caps?

Straw hat stall at Luton market, 1920 [Z1306/75/17/43]

Wednesday 26th May 1915:  The Luton Chamber of Commerce is furious at plans by the Chief Recruiting Office to issue a poster showing a straw hat and a khaki cap, with the caption “Which ought you to wear!”  An official of the Office has told a Press representative that “a lot of men of the wrong class are trying to enlist. We are getting applications from men who should stay in their jobs, and others obviously over age. The man we want is the young slacker with ‘cold feet’, who goes up to town in a straw hat and fancy socks.” 

There are fears that a poster of this type would cause serious damage to the straw boater trade, which has already suffered through so many men joining the army, where they have no need for Luton’s famous product. There is a real risk that the poster would cause even men who are not eligible to join the army to avoid wearing straw hats. A letter has been sent by the President of the Luton Chamber of Commerce to the War Office and the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee drawing attention to the likely repercussions if this poster is issued. He says:

“While not denying that some slackers may be wearing straw hats it is obvious that the mere wearing of the hat does not make the man a slacker, nor refraining from wearing it change his nature. Further, there are hundreds of thousands of men either of military age, or under military age, engaged in the necessary services of the Community, who may be deterred from wearing what is obviously the best and most hygienic headgear during the summer months. That this is not the object of the War Office is frankly admitted, but that it will have that effect I am afraid is beyond doubt. I trust, therefore, that you will see your way to withdraw any calculated to still further damage this most important industry”.

Source: Luton News, 27th May 1915

Monday, 25 May 2015

Poor Start to the Recruiting March

Mayor greeting troops outside Luton Town Hall, May 1915 [Z1306/75/16/28]

Tuesday 25th May 1915: The first few days of the 2/5th Bedfords’ recruiting march have not been a success. The first big disappointment was met at Shillington. Although the village has already given the lives of two of its men, there are many who have been slow in coming forward to join the army including about seventy young unmarried men who appear to have little justification for refusing to serve their Country. However, despite the best efforts of the recruiters to persuade them, not a single volunteer came forward. Indeed, the whole day produced only a single recruit. The next day was slightly more successful, with five or six recruits coming forward at Harlington. The quality of the young men in the 2/5th Battalion can be seen from their speed on the march from Barton to Streatley, when they completed 1¼ miles in 22 minutes, despite carrying full equipment and rifles on a very hot morning.

When the recruiting march arrived at Luton on Saturday afternoon the troops drew up outside the Town Hall and were welcomed by the Mayor who wished them a successful visit to the town. On  Sunday morning there was a Church parade on the Moor, followed in the afternoon by a concert at Wardown. The battalion band was to have given the whole concert, but as they are primarily a marching band and have not been together very long, they contributed only a couple of short sessions to the programme, which was mainly performed by the Luton Red Cross Band. The gathering at Park Square planned for Monday morning was cancelled and the recruiters marched to Caddington where they expected to find about fifteen young men who might be persuaded to enlist. Unfortunately, although they found the men playing football on the green when the recruiters were spotted they disappeared. Although the soldiers pursued them to the cottages and public houses, none could be persuaded to join up. By last night after five days on the road, including three in Luton, the recruiters had succeeded in persuading only twenty men to enlist.

Yesterday evening Captain F.W.F. Lathom spoke at the Grand Theatre, Luton and his comments on the poor response received so far triggered cries of “Shame!” and “Conscription!” from the audience. Captain Lathom’s comments on the young men of Shillington and Caddington in particular were extremely caustic. He read out a letter received from a major on General French’s staff which he hoped would make them realise how necessary it was for every man who was able to do his duty to come forward: “The people of England are dreadfully to blame. The apathy, indifference, and levity of the people in England makes the hearts of us who are out here feel sick. One feels as if one was being stabbed in the back all the time – as if one’s worst enemies are one’s own people. It’s awful! The Derby and Ascot, strikes, and drink at home; bullets, shells, and poison gas here! Can nothing rouse people? Does nobody realise that we are fighting for our very national existence … there are no Derbys in Germany, no strikes, no one with his hands in his pocket and a cigarette in his mouth and a newspaper in his hand … the duty of those directly engaged in manufacturing war material, on building ships, on loading ships, on digging coal, and so on, is plain. So is that of every able-bodied young man who is medically fit to enlist”.

Captain Lathom’s passionate appeal, which was repeated at other places of amusement, met with some success and by the time the marchers left Luton this morning the number of recruits had risen to thirty-eight.

Source: Luton News 27th May 1915

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Bedford's Girl Guides

Girl Guide group, c.1915 [Z1176/5]

Monday 24th May 1915: The Bedford Companies of Girl Guides were kindly permitted by the District Commissioner Mrs F. Jean Trustram Eve to hold their first public parade in the garden of “Rushmoor” in Shakespeare Road this afternoon. The Girl Guides were founded by Lord Baden-Powell in 1910 and the movement was started in Bedford at a patriotic meeting for girls last November. Four of the five Companies which took part in the parade came from this initiative, and the fifth is attached to the Y.W.C.A. There are now 133 Guides enrolled, and 114 have passed their tenderfoot and are now official Guides. Of these 99 took part in the parade, together with 13 officers.

The Companies marched onto the parade ground at 3pm in a hollow square formation and were inspected by Mrs Trustram Eve, accompanied by the Companies’ officers. Following the inspection each Company in turn performed a drill in the middle of the square. The Commissioner then gave a short speech on the Girl Guides’ motto “Be Prepared” and just how important this was in order for everyone to do their part in the War. She explained the different badges which can be earned and announced that it was hoped that there could be an outdoor camp on the next Bank Holiday with campfires and cooking competitions. The Companies then marched past the Union Jack at the salute and were given tea on the other lawn.

Most of the Guides were dressed in their uniform, which is a dark blue skirt and blouse, a brown belt, a blue tie, and a dark blue felt hat. Each patrol is named after a flower, which is embroidered on the pocket, and the Company number is added to the shoulder strap. Not all the recruits have yet received their uniform, and some Companies do not yet have sufficient funds to buy their belts and other equipment, but considering how short a time they have been running they have done extremely well to look so smart.

Mrs Trustram Eve has issued an appeal for funds to support this fledgling movement. She says that the girls are encouraged to pass tests in ambulance, cooking, dressmaking, path-finding and many other useful accomplishment. The keen sense of competition between the companies ensures that all members try to avoid untidiness and other forms of slackness. While the members are doing their best to raise funds for their immediate needs, help is needed to meet expenses such as the hire of halls for drill and subscriptions are sought from all who have the welfare of girls at heart.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 28th May and 25th June 1915

[1] The Girl Guides were founded in 1910. The BLARS catalogue for the Bedfordshire Girl Guides collection (reference X698) says that Girl Guiding first took root in Bedfordshire with formation of the 1st Luton company which was registered at Guide Headquarters on 11th May. This article makes it apparent that Girl Guide companies existed in Bedford from November 1914. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Family Matters

Ernest Woodward with his family, 1926-7 [Z681/56]

Sunday 23rd May 1915:  Miss Margaret Woodward of Pavenham has received a letter from her brother Ernest, who is serving in France with the Northumberland Fusiliers. Ernest joined the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment as a band boy at the age of 14 in 1900, transferring within a few months to the current Regiment. It seems there has been some family difficulty between Ernest and his sisters over the allotment from his pay which Ernest himself does not understand. He assures his sister he is not “making a fool of her” and asks that she will “give me some information and allow me to speak, please write me in answer to this letter and tell me all”.

Ernest enquires after the health of their mother, who has been ill, and says rather bluntly “I don’t hear much about your young man now. What has become of him? Deserted you or what?” It seems unlikely this comment will bring about much improvement his sister’s attitude to him! He is optimistic about the war, saying: “We are still having beautiful weather out here, and the trees etc. are looking beautiful. It’s just like being in the beautiful country at home, only for the wickedness of the war. I think it will soon finish now. The gas is about our worst enemy now, and still that cannot beat us”.

Source: Papers of the Woodward Family of Kempston  [Z681/26] 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Luton Town's Footballers Disperse

Bob Hawkes, Luton Town's first English international player [Wikimedia]

Saturday 22nd May 1915: Since the end of the football season Luton Town’s players have dispersed. As the Football League is to be suspended next season it is not yet known when the club will reassemble.[1] We heard in December how eight players had joined the Footballers’ Battalion but had been released to play for the club until the end of the 1914/5 season. Seven of these continue to train with the battalion but the eighth, Robert William Frith, has been admitted to the infirmary to have two toes amputated.[2] Other players have returned to their previous trades. Mitchell, Potts and Macfarlane are all doing Government work; Mitchell and Potts have remained in Luton, at Kent’s and the Diamond Foundry respectively, and Macfarlane has gone to Tyneside. Robinson and Rollinson have both returned to their old trade at Sheffield. R. Abbott, Chipperfield, Sidney Hoar, Bob Hawkes and Fred Hawkes are all still in Luton.[3] Billy Lawson, the club’s trainer and the source of our information, is doing massage work and would be happy to obtain more.

Source: Luton News 13th May 1915

[1] According to the club's 1919-20 Handbook only friendly games were played in the first half of the 1915-1916 season. [Source: Luton WW1: Great War Stories]

[2] Frith’s remaining war service included munitions work and a long term posting at the Regimental depot at Aldershot, suggesting that he was left unfit to serve overseas. He also never played football again for Luton. [Source: Luton WW1: Great War Stories]

[3] Hoar subsequently joined the Bedfordshire Regiment. He recovered from being gassed in August 1917 to play again for Luton in 1919. [Source: Luton WW1: Great War Stories]

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Last Letter of a Linslade Soldier

Friday 21st May 1915: Private Mark Page, the youngest son of George and Rebecca Page of Rose Cottage,  52 Springfield Road, Linslade, was killed in action on 9th May fighting with the 1/4th Seaforth Highlanders. Two of his brothers are also serving in the armed forces and a third is on his way from Canada to England to enlist. Three other brothers in Canada are training as volunteers for home defence.[1]  He had returned to the Front after recovering from an earlier wound. Shortly before his death 18 year old Private Page wrote to a friend with a cheerful description of life at the Front:
“We expect to go up into the firing line again on Sunday. The idea people in England have of us is one of constant trial and struggles, but believe me, I love being out here. It is not nearly so bad as people imagine. No doubt it was bad in the rough, cold weather, but we are having lovely summer weather now. You hear people saying we don’t get enough to eat, but they are wrong, I have always had enough up to now, and it is only very dissatisfied men who would want more. I often hear chaps grumbling and saying, they will write home for parcels, but it is a waste of money to the senders. A parcel cannot last a chap more than two or three days, and then they start grumbling again. Some of them expect the Army to supply just the sort of things we should get at home, custards, jellies, tins of fruit, and eggs and things like that. They would get on a lot better if they had made up their minds from the first to be satisfied with everything. That’s what I did and I have no cause to complain yet. We are not altogether without music out here as I have a mouth organ and a tin whistle and two of us played these every day in the trenches. … I have never been unwell a single day since I enlisted. I think the open air life is doing me a world of good. I never felt better in my life than a do now.”
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 15th June 1915

[1] By the end of the war six of the brothers had served in the Armed Forces [Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission]

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Bedfordshire Regiment Recruiting March

The Recruiting Band, 2/5th Bedfords, 1915 [Bedfordshire Standard]

Thursday 20th May 1915:  Six officers and 144 men of the 2/5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, led by Major Richard Rouse Boughton Orlebar [1], have begin a three week recruiting march through the county. This battalion consists of Imperial Service men who are unable to go to the Front, in most cases because they have not reached the qualifying age of 19.The aim of the march is to recruit 500 men and raise a new battalion which will become the 3/5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment; this Battalion will be used to reinforce the 1/5th Battalion when it gets into the firing line. The marchers travelled by train from Newmarket, where they are billeted, to Baldock. From there they began their march accompanied by both the bugle and brass bands of the battalion; they will be stopping today at Stotfold, Arlesey, Henlow, Upper Stondon and Shillington. The recruiting party is expected to arrive at Luton on Sunday and will spend the Whitsun Bank Holiday there. The Lord Lieutenant Mr. Samuel Whitbread has issued this appeal to the public:


The march is scheduled to take 22 days and to cover a distance of 226 miles; the soldiers will be billeted in the towns and larger villages and will visit the smaller villages en route. It is scheduled to end at Bedford on Friday 11th June. Those wishing to enlist need not wait for the recruiters to arrive. They can sign up at any time either at the Luton Corn Exchange, where recruiting officers have been located, or at the battalion’s headquarters at 46 Gwyn Street, Bedford.

Sources: Luton News 20th May 1915; Bedfordshire Standard 4 June 1915

[1] The husband of Faith Orlebar, commandant of Hinwick House Hospital

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Horses Burnt to Death at Luton

Fire engine outside Luton Town Hall after Peace Riots, 1919 [Z1306/75/10/23/20]

Wednesday 19th May 1915: The Luton Fire Brigade were called out this afternoon to a fire in a military stables occupied by the 4th Home Counties Brigade Ammunition Column. The stable, opposite the Steam Laundry in Dunstable Road, was well alight when the motor fire engine arrived. When the fire broke out in the forage stores there were twenty horses in the stable; two of these were burnt to death. The rest had been rescued by the time the Fire Brigade arrived, but unfortunately two other horses had suffered such severe burns that they had to be destroyed. Four more were badly burned.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette 25th May 1915

Monday, 18 May 2015

Hospital Evacuation Arrangements

Tuesday 18th May 1915: The Director of the Voluntary Aid Detachments for Bedfordshire is becoming increasingly exasperated over the demands made by Eastern Command and the Suffolk Red Cross that he make definite arrangements for the accommodation of sick and wounded soldiers from Suffolk in the event of an evacuation becoming necessary. Today he has sent the following somewhat sarcastic letter to his Suffolk counterpart:
Dear Sir With reference to your letter of May 9th. You are in a very happy position if you have been told that any suitable buildings can be taken if the existing Hospital accommodation is insufficient. I may at once point out that there is no existing hospital accommodation in this County and what we have to do is to extemporise some. Practically every suitable building is in occupation of the troops. The fact of being told that the troops may vacate these buildings is not quite good enough for me to give you any definite undertaking. The following buildings may be used and you can send your wounded there. I suppose you will be able to give us at least 48 hours notice. 
Luton: The Infirmary at the Union House, Dunstable Rd; Tennyson Road, County School; Coutts and Co’s Factory.
Biggleswade: Masonic Hall
Sandy: Sandy Town Hall
Bedford: Kempston School 
Ampthill: British School 
Clophill: The Schools
We would as far as possible have beds etc., but the accommodation would be and must be rough. We cannot fit up these buildings now in anticipation of what may happen and what if it does happen will come very suddenly. I will in due course directly I hear from the various Commandants give you approximately the numbers that can be placed in each of these buildings.
 Yours very truly,
Major F.A.D.Stevens
Source: WW1 Nursing Records [WW1/NU4]

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Difficulties of a German Teacher

Monday 17th May 1915: The increase in bad feeling against anyone of German nationality that produced yesterday’s violent demonstrations in Bedford has also caused people in the town to turn against the German teacher at Bedford Modern School. Although Dr M. L. de la Motte Tischbrock was born in Germany he is now a naturalised British subject. Writing to Mr. Cecil Kaye he says:  
“I have again heard that some people in our town have expressed doubt as to my loyalty, one person has gone even so far as to say I belonged to the German Secret Service. This is utterly untrue. I do not belong now nor have I ever belonged to any Secret Service at all, German or otherwise..”  
Dr. Tischbrock also wrote a letter to the Times declaring:
“Naturalized Germans are asked on platforms and in papers to state, whether they side with Great Britain or against her in this war and to prove their loyalty. I state at once that I side whole-heartedly with Great Gritain. I could not wish to see the downfall of this country, where I have lived as a guest for over 20 years, and where I hope to live for the rest of my life. And though born in Germany I should not like to see an army triumph which has burned Louvain, used asphyxiating gas and employed methods, which fill a decent man’s soul with horror and shame.”
 Mr. F. Palmer, the head of the school tried to ascertain the truth of the matter by consulting Dr. Tischbrock’s pupils and has today written the following statement:
“I called together the whole of Dr. Tischbrock’s senior German class on Saturday (May 15th) , and asked questions on two points. First, I found that Dr. Tischbrock has certainly never attempted to force “pro-German” views upon the class. He has indeed rarely spoken of the War at all; he expressed great shame when Reims Cathedral was bombarded, and condemned it as a wicked crime; he has said that the War is one of his greatest sorrows. I can hear of no further references.
 The second point was the attitude of the class towards Dr.Tischbrock. If anyone had hostile feelings, he hid them very well on Saturday, for the class was unanimous in hoping that Dr. Tischbrock should stay with us, and apparently resented all suggestion of ill-feeling towards him.”
 Source: Records of Bedford Modern School, BMS/CWK/82/2-4

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Anti-German Demonstrations at Bedford

The Crown Public House, 2010 [BLARS]

Sunday 16th May 1915: This weekend Bedford has seen its first anti-German demonstrations. The first took place on Friday night at the Crown Inn, at the junction of Cauldwell Street and Britannia Road. The landlord, Mr Kasteleiner, although born in Germany is a naturalised British subject and has been the licensee of the Crown for around thirty years. His wife is believed to be of English parentage. Rumours passed around the town yesterday that the public house was to be attacked, and the demonstration began soon after nine o’clock. Windows and furniture were smashed, a slot machine was broken up and the money taken, bottles of whisky and cigars were thrown out, and the buffet at the back of the bar was destroyed. Part of the wall adjoining the pub was pulled down and the bricks used to carry out the destruction. Furniture elsewhere in the downstairs rooms of the house and other articles were carried away by bystanders. A piano was overturned and badly damaged. By the time the police arrived there was little they could do; order was not restored until after midnight.

Last night a second attack took place, this time on the premises of Mr. A. Scheuermann, a pork butcher, at 13 Tavistock Street. Mr. Scheuermann is also a naturalised British subject; one of his sons is with the British Expeditionary Force in France and his daughter is a military nurse. Although soldiers were on duty outside the shop the large plate glass window was broken. The crowd rushed the shop but were held back by the soldiers. Reinforcements were sent who closed off that part of Tavistock Street and prevented further damage.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 21st May 1915

Friday, 15 May 2015

Women Wanted For War Work

Women Hoeing at Arlesey House, 1917 [Z49/495]

Saturday 15th May 1915: The Bedfordshire Branch of the National Service League (N.S.L.) has offered to assist the Bedford Labour Exchange in registering women who are willing and able to help in the war effort, and the Women’s Branch of the Labour Exchange has opened a National Service League Register. The N.S.L. is distributing Board of Trade Forms throughout the county. When these are returned applicants will be sent enrolment cards and advised of employment opportunities. While many women are already doing war work, there are still many capable women and girls who could take the place of men who could then be released for army service. It is understood that women are required in the following areas:

To work as shop assistants, in clerical work, or any other work which will release men to fight.
To work in agricultural districts.
For farm work, dairy work, leather stitching, brush making, clothing machining, light machining for armaments etc.
In ammunition factories and clothing factories.

The N.S.L. Secretary at Headquarters is watching this experiment with the Labour Exchange with great interest and has asked for a report on the results.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 14th May 1915

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Views on the Skefco Strike

Skefco Catalogue, 1915 [Z764/6]

Friday 14th May 1915: Reaction to last week’s strike at Skefco Ball-Bearing Co. has been strong on all sides. The Secretary of the Engineering Trades’ Joint Committee, one of the men involved in the strike, has written complaining about the comments made in the Luton News about their actions. He defended the man who and been dismissed and went on to say:

“With regard to the alleged agreement between the firm and workmen respecting their wages. You were not informed that they absolutely refused to observe the increased rate of wages, which took effect on February 29th last in the federated engineering firms of the town and several non-federated firms also. Naturally, the men employed at the Skefko expected to be treated on the same lines as the men working for the other Luton shops; they put in a demand for the same treatment, but met with a refusal. It is all very well for you in your comments, and the firm in their interview, bashing the patriotic drum for all it’s worth; the workers are having to pay dear for the war. The manipulators of the people’s food and other necessities are waxing fat out of the workers. Save your condemnation for those who deserve it.”

Other members of the workforce have also put their point of view:

“Much in your report is only half the truth, and to charge the men with bartering their duty for gain is not only offensive and misleading, but also absurd. Why, if we were so sordid and mercenary, did we reject the proffered war bonus, and why have we kept at our work from the beginning of the war without any advance in wages, save only the ½d an hour to married men, after a petition, while practically every other firm had granted an advance to ¾d months ago? The firm’s good works are manifold, but why omit to state the fact that week by week since war began the men have paid their contribution to the Soldiers Wives’ Maintenance Fund, or to leave out mention of the 5s each man pays to join the rifle club, which costs us nothing?”

Mr J. Horn, a cavalryman at the front with the 20th Hussars who was employed by Mr. R. H. Marks of George Street before the war takes a very different view:

“I read in the Luton News yesterday about the strike at the Skefko Works, and I think they should be sent out here and put in the first line of trenches, without ammunition, and the Germans ought to send their gases over them, to see how they go on then. They would never want to strike again. They cannot guess how things are out here. If they could see the poor refugees in this place flying from place to place for safety – old women being carried away on barrow, and babies in arms – they would understand what we are fighting for … If you could only hear what the boys say about the Germans out here you would say that we have hearts like lions. It doesn’t matter what we lose or what we gain, we go in for it, meaning to do better every time I wish you could hear what the boys said about the girls going on strike at Kent’s. They said they would like them out here for a week”.

Source: Luton News, 13th and 20th May 1915

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Leighton Buzzard Woman Describes Southend Zeppelin Raid

Zeppelin recruitment poster [Wikimedia]

Thursday 13th May 1915: A Leighton woman has written home describing her experience at the Red Cross Hospital in Southend during the Zeppelin raid which hit the town early on Monday morning.[1]
“Daylight was just beginning to peep through the curtains; an orderly in soft shoes and white coat walked round the corridors, the nurses stole quietly round the wards, peeping at the sleeping patients, or putting on dressings. Two chatted quietly over the fire in the central hall, when someone came and said she thought she heard an aeroplane. They went to a side door, and on opening it were met by a rushing noise that was so loud that somebody said: ‘It is only a train.’  ‘Gee, whizz!’  Something flashed through the air just over their heads; then came a terrific explosion that shook the house violently. ‘Bombs! Are we hit? How near is it?’ ‘Out with the lights; to the wards,’ and ‘Are the patients all right?’  ‘Yes, and wide awake.’  ‘Don’t be frightened nurse, that’s fallen half-a-mile away.’  ‘Has it though; where is that fire?’  ‘So they are here at last; sounds like Jack Johnsons doesn’t it mate?’  were some of the remarks these wounded Tommies made, while the warning hooter still sounded its dismal note, and the noise of explosions continued, though not quite so near.”
“Then suspense … ‘We had better move the patients from the top wards to the basement,’ said the matron to the night sister. ‘Get rugs, hot water bottles and ten nurses.’ So everybody was busy for a while. Special police constables, Secretaries, R.A.M.C. men, and a doctor came flocking in. ‘All right here? We thought you had been hit. A bomb has fallen each side of you.’ … The telephone bell rings: ‘Any room for a casualty? We’re bringing a soldier injured in a fire.’ ‘Bring him along,’ was the reply. ‘We haven’t a single vacant bed, but we will put one up somewhere.’ So the day came … work went on with its usual routine … the tired night nurses anxiously wondering whether their own people were safe, went home through the crowded streets, where the people flocked to see the havoc wrought so suddenly in their peaceful seaside town.”
 Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 18th May 1915

[1] Over 80 bombs were dropped on Southend by Zeppelin LZ38 resulting in many casualties and considerable damage to property, but only one death. [Source: Southend Timeline]

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Regimental Postman Gaoled

British Postal Order, 1908 [Wikimedia]

Wednesday 12th May 1915: Lance-Corporal John James Halse of the 2/4th Leicesters, a soldier billeted in Luton has appeared at Luton Borough Court today charged with stealing a postal order of the value of two shillings. Lance-Corporal Halse has been employed as a regimental postman, whose duty was to collect letters from the General Post Office and distribute them. Complaints had been received that letters were going astray and Halse came under suspicion. When his belongings were searched an opened letter addressed to a man in the Lincolnshire Regiment was found. The letter contained a postal order marked Grimsby. Lance-Corporal Halse pleaded guilty and admitted stealing other postal orders. A Lieutenant appeared as a character witness, saying Halse was previously of good character.  The guilty man asked for leniency, explaining that he had previously fought in the Boer War and wanted to get to the Front. However, the Bench took the view that the breach of trust was of such a magnitude that prison was the only option. Halse was sentenced to one month in gaol with hard labour.

Source: Luton News, 13th May 1915

Monday, 11 May 2015

Food Parcels for Prisoners of War

British Red Cross Parcel, World War II [Wikimedia]

Tuesday 11th May 1915: The Prisoners’ of War Help Committee has sent out an appeal for help to meet the needs of British soldiers now in German prison camps. A local Committtee has been set up which now has a list of the names of all Bedfordshire men known to be prisoners of war. The Committee has asked for helpers to send food and clothing weekly or fortnightly. An incentive for donors is that no charge is made for delivery of these parcels, regardless of weight. Any packages weighing less than eleven pounds will be sent through the General Post Office, with heavier parcels being carried by the American Express Company. It is understood that when sent through the correct channels nearly 99 out of every 100 parcels sent are received by the addressees. It has also been suggested that food depots should be set up throughout the county to which gifts could be taken. Volunteer ladies would then package the goods ready for delivery, and where money was given rather than items they would use this purchase whatever was required.

There is no doubt that food parcels are very much appreciated by their recipients. Private William Housden from Biggleswade, who was taken prisoner while serving with the Suffolk Regiment, has written a letter of thanks for one sent to him by Messrs. Chew and Son of Biggleswade. He says that he is being well treated, but as the letter was subjected to heavy censorship it would have been difficult to say otherwise:

“I received your parcel quite safely, and I thank you very much indeed, as parcels are very acceptable. We are quite all right here, as we are treated very well. I am sure it is very kind of you to send such a nice parcel, and I feel very much indebted to you for your great kindness towards me. I hope you are having nice weather at Biggleswade, and wish I was there to help you enjoy it. … I am feeling a little lonely here, as I am the only one in this camp who comes from the dear old town of Biggleswade. The parcel was quite intact, with the exception of the sugar. The bag had burst, and the sugar, I was sorry to find, had disappeared through a little hole in the corner of the parcel, but I soon got some from the camp canteen, so all is well --- [CENSORED] --- I am writing by return of post, as all letters and postcards get a severe censorship before leaving here.”

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 14th May 1915 and 21st May 1915

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lost with the Lusitania

RMS Lusitania (Wikimedia)

Monday 10th May 1915:  After last week’s terrible news of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland [1] it now appears that two Luton men are among those lost. Thomas Edward George Bodell, the son of Mr Thomas Bodell of Clarendon Road, Luton, emigrated to Canada ten years ago and was returning to Britian for the first time. He was travelling with his wife and their two year old son. None of their names have appeared on the lists of survivors and it must now be assumed that they are among the victims of the disaster. Mrs Bodell’s brother has travelled from Cardiff to Queenstown in Ireland to try to identify his sister and her family, but so far without success. Thomas Bodell attended Waller Street School in Luton. He then served an apprenticeship at Hayward, Tyler and Co. and worked in London for a time before leaving for Canada, where he went into business as a brass and electrical fittings maker in Toronto. He was a former secretary of the Luton Amateur Football Club. His father says his 33 year old son had disposed of his Canadian business and was returning to England with the intention of enlisting.

Mr Robert E. Dearbergh, who was travelling as a saloon passenger on the Lusitania, is also believed lost. His brothers carried on one of the leading plait businesses in Luton for many years, although he himself has lived in New York for some time. His brother, Fred Dearbergh of St. Albans, has also travelled to Queenstown but has found no trace of the missing man. Mr. Dearburgh, a bachelor aged 52, last lived in Luton some twenty-five years ago. A well travelled man, he was considered an accomplished linguist. He was returning to Britain to place his abilities and experience at his country’s disposal.

Source: Luton News, 13th May 1915; Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Citizen, 18th May 1915

[1] The Lusitania was torpedoed on 7th May 1915, with the loss of 1201 lives.

[2] More about the sinking of the Lusitania and the Lutonians lost in the disaster can be found on the Luton WW1 website.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Death in the Dardanelles

Programme from Kenneth Longuet-Higgins' last school sports, 1913 [HG12/11/113]

Sunday 9th May 1915: The Longuet-Higgins family of Turvey have received the sad news of the death of their youngest son Kenneth, the Lieutenant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry we last heard of travelling out to the Dardanelles in March. Kenneth Aislabie Longuet-Higgins was killed on 2nd May 1915, aged just nineteen, and was buried at sea off Rhodes on 3rd May. One of his former school friends at St. Paul’s, London, has written the following poem in his memory:
Died of Wounds Received at the DardanellesWhere stern grey busts of gods and heroes oldFrown down upon the corridors’ chill stone,
On which the sunbeam’s amber pale is thrown
From leaf-fringed windows, one of quiet mouldGazed long at those white chronicles which toldOf honours that the stately School had known.
He read the names: and wondered if his own
Would ever grace the walls in letters bold.
He knew not that he for the School would gainA greater honour with a greater price –
That, no long years of work, but bitter painAnd his rich life, he was to sacrifice –
Not in a University’s grey peace,
But on the hilly sun-baked Chersonese.
Source: Higgins Archive [HG1/130, anonymous poem signed only O.P. (Old Pauline) reprinted from ‘The Pauline’, December 1915]

Friday, 8 May 2015

In the Event of Invasion

Church Road, Wilstead 1914 [Z1306/134/6/1]

Saturday 8th May 1915:  A meeting has been held at which plans were made for an emergency scheme covering the villages of Cople, Willington, Cardington, Eastcotts, Wilstead and Elstow, to be put into effect in the event of German invasion. In each village a deputy has been appointed to the head of the Emergency Committee, Mr John Arnold Whitworth. Each deputy is to be sworn in as a Special Constable and to take complete charge of his village, appointing four men under him to take charge of live stock, tools, transport and food stuffs. Each will be required to carry out the following duties:

Live Stock – cattle, sheep and horses not required for transport are to be driven to Wilstead, enroute for Haynes, Millbrook and Woburn Sands. The man in charge should select a staff capable of driving and also destroying and rendering unfit for human food any animals the military requires to be destroyed. Horses fit for transport should be collected at the village centre.

Tools – the man in charge will require a staff with axes, ropes, saws, picks and spades for felling trees, making roads, filling ditches, collecting and fixing barbed wire or such other duties as the military may require. He will need to work closely with the man responsible for transport; together they should load up tools and wire and take them to the nearest centre.

Transport – all transport material should be collected at the nearest centre. Where required this should be loaded with items collected by the man in charge of tools.

Food Stuffs – a staff must be found to burn and destroy any supplies which are ordered to be destroyed, or to load such supplies as may be required to be moved.

Owners of motor cars and motor cycles should be asked to bring them to the nearest County Police Station, with as much petrol as they can carry. Mr Whitchurch wishes to be advised of the number of Boy Scouts or Special Constables required in addition to the local staff, who should be used as much as possible. The village deputies have been asked to impress upon the farmers the need to brand their stock for identification purposes.

Source: Notes made by John Arnold Whitchurch [WW1/EC1/3]